Chapter 5

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Edwardian Conquest

Edward I (left) was determined to rule a united island of Britain under his kingship, and this meant he had ultimately to conquer Wales and Scotland. The short period of peace between English and Welsh following the Treaty of Montgomery was an illusion. Dafydd, disappointed in the acclaim given to his brother, and supported by Edward, defected to the English. King Edward then took a huge army into Wales to assert his might. He was greatly helped by further family squabbles between Prince Llywelyn and many of the minor princes who resisted his authority.

Even in his mountain stronghold of Gwynedd, Llywelyn's own formidable problems made one part of Edward's task much easier than was perhaps expected, considering the early defeats that the Welsh armies inflicted upon the invading English, not used to fighting in mountainous terrain. Consequently, after heavy defeats in the field and lacking any significant support, Llywelyn's great achievement at Montgomery was completely negated. At the Treaty of Aberconwy in 1277, he was forced to accept humiliating terms and to give up most of his recently acquired lands, keeping only Gwynedd west of the Conwy River.

Edward followed his successes by building English strongholds around the perimeter of what remained of Llywelyn's possessions. Strong, easily defended, forbidding castles were erected at the strategic points of Flint, Rhuddlan, Aberystwyth and Builth, garrisoned by large detachments of English soldiers and their families and settled by merchants and immigrants.

At Rhuddlan, in the northeast, Edward's castle builders even had the river diverted to provide easy access for men and provisions. Without having much of a choice and hoping for better fortune in the future, Llywelyn simply waited for better circumstances, going so far as to pay homage to the King of England. His wedding to Elinor at Worcester was even honored by Edward's attendance, but the harsh methods used by Edward to control the conquered principality were soon to produce a major revolt.

The rebellion was initially led by Dafydd, now reconverted to the cause of his country and gaining widespread support, but Llywelyn could not sit idly by as conditions forced him to take control. An entry in "Brut y Tywysogion" reads: "The gentlefolk of Wales, despoiled of their liberty and their rights, came to Llywelyn ap Gruffudd and revealed to him with tears their grievous bondage to the English; and they made known to him that they preferred to be slain in war for their liberty than to suffer themselves to be unrighteously trampled upon by foreigners."

At first, the Welsh leader enjoyed a period of success: the castles of Builth, Aberystwyth and Ruthin fell into his hands, and a large English force was utterly destroyed in the Menai Straits in Gwynedd. Edward was forced to devote the whole of his English kingdom's resources to deal with the "malicious, accursed" Welsh, yet it was a mere chance encounter that broke the spirit of his enemy and effectively ended the Welsh dream.

At Cilmeri, in a quiet green meadow on the side of the road from Builth Wells to Llandovery, you will see a tall granite monolith. At first glance, it looks like one of the standing stones erected thousands of years ago by our Neolithic ancestors, yet a close inspection reveals it to be a monument erected in 1956 to the memory of Prince Llywelyn: Ein Lliw Olaf (Our last ruler).

Separated from the main body of his army, Llywelyn found himself in a minor skirmish in which, he was killed by an English knight unaware of the Welsh prince's identity. Upon discovery, Llywelyn's head was sent to London for display as that of a traitor. A poignant ballad by modern Welsh songwriter and nationalist Dafydd Iwan expresses the grief of the Welsh at the loss of their beloved Llywelyn: "Collir Llywelyn, colli'r cyfan" (losing Llywelyn is losing everything ).

Chapter 5 Continued
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